How to increase nutrient absorption
How to increase nutrient absorption - as promised
Ok guys, as promised...I wrote a 14 page article on digestion recently. This is the beginning and the end of the article..
Building a Strong Digestive System for Optimal Nutrient Absorption
By John Meadows
When I look back at all the questions I had in 2010, there were more questions around digestive disorders than I ever would have thought. I had clients that came to me with Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s disease, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), and even Celiac disease. In bodybuilding circles specifically, I am witnessing more and more people who have digestive disorders. I bet 10-15% of the people who come to me have at least 2 to 3 staple foods that give them bloating, gas, and other uncomfortable symptoms of digestive disorder. So with all this in mind, I thought it would be very useful and applicable to all, to talk about how we can improve our digestive health, and subsequently how we can absorb the nutrition from our food optimally.
I am very passionate and semi
-knowledgeable about this topic, as some of you know; I almost died in 2005 due to an internal disorder in my digestive system. To make a long story short, I had a disease called “Idiopathic Myointimal Hyperplasia of Mesenteric veins
.” This particular set of veins
in the recto-sigmoid portion of my colon became diseased and blood flow was blocked. The vessels eventually exploded for lack of a better term. Fortunately I was in the hospital when it happened, so I could be rushed into emergency surgery, as I was bleeding to death and in shock. Needless to say, I became real interested in how our digestive systems work when I woke up in the Intensive Care Unit and learned that I no longer had a large intestine/colon, and that I was temporarily the proud owner of a new ileostomy. I am very thankful to the doctor that rushed to the hospital and saved my life, Dr. Paddy as we call him, Dr Anantha Padmanabhan. Not only did he save my life, he was in good enough humor to tell me that I would never get appendicitis (it’s hooked to your colon), and I would never get constipated again (food wouldn’t be in me long enough)! There is no amount of thank you’s I could give to Dr. Paddy for him to realize my gratefulness at having a second chance in life.
Here are 8 things you can do to turn around the digestive issues you are having and thereby start absorbing your nutrition better!
1. Supplement with probiotics – You may need to replenish your bacterial flora if you are having issues. You might also be surprised to learn that the bacteria that live in our digestive tract are the absolute largest organ inside our body by weight according to many, weighing in at 4 lbs. In school they always taught us that the liver, usually 3 to 4 lbs, was the biggest internally, and you have probably heard that our skin is the largest externally and overall. I know that sounds weird, as it’s hard to figure out how much 1 to 10 trillion bacteria weigh. I don’t really know or care which is bigger, the liver or intestinal bacteria, my point is simply that the bacteria that lives in our intestinal track is massive in number, and you’ll see as we go how this can either help or hinder you in terms of how you absorb food. Not all bacteria is good (Salmonella for example), but there are many that are friendly and we call these probiotics “intestinal flora”.
I am not going to claim to know all the types and strains of bacteria in our digestive system (there are 400-500 types), but there are two strains that I want you to focus on, as I feel they will aid you in your quest for better digestion and nutrient absorption. When you purchase a product, wide varieties of strains is best, but just make sure these two are core components of that well rounded formula.
Lactobacilli is one of those two, and is primarily located in your small intestine where it colonizes. You have probably heard of one type of supplement called Lactobacillus acidophilus or L-acidophilus. This is a great supplement to prevent overgrowth of bad bacteria like e. coli, candida, and salmonella. It also is aids in digesting dairy products, breaking down casein
and gluten, improving nutrient absorption, and acidifying the intestinal tract by fermenting lactose. A low pH provides a very hostile environment for pathogens and yeasts. These intestinal floras also can generate B Vitamins and even Vitamin K.
Bifidobacteria is the other probiotic that I want you to focus on. It is found primarily in the large intestine. It prevents bad bacteria from colonizing in the colon (it literally sets up shop in the intestinal lining and crowds out bad bacteria and yeasts), which serves to protect that intestinal lining that we have talked so much about. It also produces acids that maintain the proper pH balance in the intestine, and again this is important to kill off microbes that can cause disease. This is also a very important supplement for those taking antibiotics and other medications we discussed earlier, as it lessens the side effect of killing off all the good bacteria. These bacteria also help to regulate peristalsis, which is the process that moves food through the digestive tract. Again, food that sits in your intestines to long creates issues, so this is a particularly important benefit. Lastly it can even manufacture B vitamins.
There are many other benefits associated with both of these types of bacteria that we are not going to get into such as metabolic aid in breaking down and rebuilding hormones, converting flavanoids to their usable form, etc.
A good strategy to enhance production of these two types of bacteria is to supplement with these Probiotics. I want you to look specifically for lactobacillus acidophilus, and bifidobacteria bifidum. Also, the best brands are usually refrigerated. Be very careful about ordering products over the internet that claim their products never need refrigeration. There are some strains that don’t require it, but most of the stronger more critical strains do require refrigeration.
There are a great deal of really good products out there (I am not associated with any), but the two I recommend, as does Dr. Serrano, are Klaire Labs, and Innate Response. Here is a particular product from Klaire that contains equal amounts of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum as an example of what you should look for. Title
2. Supplement with Prebiotics – The difference between pre and probiotics is this, prebiotics are a fuel for good bacteria, whereas probiotics are actual good bacteria. Prebiotics are non-digestible nutrients that your good bacteria can use for energy. They stimulate the growth of good bacteria such as the bifidobacteria and lactobacilli we just discussed. The two most common types are inulin and FOS (fructooligosaccharides). They generally pass through the digestive system whole, and really perform their magic in the colon. I use a supplement from NOW FOODS called Stevia balance with inulin and chromium religiously. Use it as your preferred sweetener!
Here is another example of a great Prebiotic supplement. Title
In terms of food choices, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, honey (I prefer raw organic honey), garlic, onion, leeks and chicory are all good sources as well. Be sure to include some of these selections in your diet.
3. Use Anti-oxidants and glutamine
to Repair the Damage That’s Already Done, and Prevent Future Damage – There are great antioxidant supplements that you can use to minimize free radical damage in your gut. Once you start getting damage in your gut, these free radicals can spiral out of control. Here are some supplements that I recommend to control this.
– This nutrient actually repairs your mucosal lining directly. It is the preferred food of cells in your small intestine! This should be at the top of your list to keep your mucosal lining integrity and for healing. Try 5 grams twice daily.
b. NAC – N-acety cysteine. Take 2 grams daily. This has been one of my favorite supplements for a few years now. It is a powerful antioxidant, and immune support supplement. It is a precursor for glutathione, along with glutamine
and glycine, an important antioxidant that protects cells against oxidative stress. This will help to minimize already occurring damage in your gut, and certainly the immunity strengthening effects are needed with damaged intestinal lining.
c. ALA – Alpha Lipoic Acid – Another awesome supplement to reduce free radical activity, and this supplement also can help to support your liver, and even as a glucose disposal agent to maintain blood sugar levels. I like 300 mgs in between meals 3 times a day for antioxidant purposes (half that dose for the R form). This supplement actually recycles antioxidants in your body. This can ward off infections in your gut. If you look at much of the research out there, you’ll see that a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori is the main culprit in gastritis, ulcers and stomach cancer. Antioxidants can help defend you against this!
4. Consume Flora Enhancing Food – Fermented and cultured foods are my main weapon in this battle. Fermented foods have increased probiotic content, help with digestion, and are loaded with digestive enzymes.
My top 3 personal favorites include:
§ Kimchi - An Asian fermented cabbage type product that is a staple in my diet. I get mine from Whole Foods, it’s called Sunjay’s Spicy Kimchi.
§ Saurkraut – It’s actually used to treat ulcers and digestive problems in other countries.
§ Yogurt/Kefir/Cottage Cheese – Cultured dairy
5. Make Fibrous Carbs a Cornerstone in Your Daily Diet – Include fiber via mainly fruits and veggies in your diet! High fiber fruits and veggies also protect our colons and reduce the chances of you getting bowel diseases including colon cancer. Now remember, when you add in god sources of fiber, that in itself can give you gas until your intestinal flora adjust, and that is precisely what we are after (intestinal flora adjustment – not gas!) If this seems like a lot of fiber for you, just take it slow, gradually add it in. You do not want to shock your body and suddenly go from a small amount to a large amount of fiber in a short period of time.
I would shoot for a serving of one or the other in every meal. Don’t neglect veggies and eat all fruit, as excess fruit itself can cause gastric disturbances. In terms of soluble vs. insoluble fiber, just focus on total grams, as the foods you eat will have a good mix of both most of the time. Also try to eat fruits and veggies that are in season, as they will likely have the highest level of nutrients, and enzyme activity.
6. Remove the Garbage from your diet – No more refined carbs and transfats in your diet! Also try to minimize alcohol consumption. Remember that sugar, man-made fats, and processed foods actually inflame your GI tract. One of my friends always says that if it won’t spoil or rot, don’t eat it. Good advice since “live” foods have more enzyme activity!
7. Use Supplemental Digestive Enzymes and other miscellaneous supplements – I really like digestive enzymes because they can work in both the stomach and intestinal environments.
Look for these key ingredients in your search:
Protease – this will help break down protein
Lipase – this will help break down fat
Amylase – this well help break down carbs
Bromelain and papain - Two other great choices for protein
digestion. If you prefer a food source, use fresh pineapple for the bromelain, and fresh papaya for the papain. These enzymes work in all 3 sections of the small intestine, as opposed to protease which may only work in the upper part of the small intestine.
Betaine hydrochloride - This a good source of hydrochloric acid, a naturally occurring chemical in the stomach that helps digest food by breaking up proteins and fats. The low pH of the stomach's hydrochloric acid also destroys ingested bacteria and microorganisms that can make you sick and compromise your gut integrity.
8. Lifestyle Changes – One of the most important things I want to emphasize to you is to relax and find ways to de-stress yourself. Also, have fun! Find something you enjoy doing (preferably legal), and do it often! For me personally, weight training at the gym is where all the stress from the daily grind dissipates. When I leave the gym, I may be hurting physically, but mentally I feel so relaxed and at ease. Exercise also massages your intestines as well which can help relieve constipation.
Eat when you are hungry. Forcing down food is not a good idea. This usually results in poor digestion. Your body isn’t ready for it. Now I do make an exception for people who don’t eat much at all or have extremely slow metabolisms. I typically have them force feed for 2 weeks to get everything revved up. Doing this long term though is NOT a good idea.
Ok this might sound a little weird and mystical to you, but I really try to chew my food slowly and relax while eating (I’m not good at it, but I try). Slow down and say a quick prayer, or thank you, or whatever you want to say with the ones you love. Having a balance in life, is ALWAYS a good thing. Appreciate the ones you love, and enjoy a good meal together as a family.